Downtown Historic District

Tour curated by: DC Preservation League

This tour will explore the diverse collection of buildings located in Washington’s historic commercial core. The Downtown district lies at the heart of the federal city, as laid out in 1791 by the French engineer and Washington city planner, Pierre L’Enfant. Downtown was traversed, bisected, and bounded by the city’s newly established transportation routes such as Pennsylvania Ave and 7th Street. Throughout this tour, you will see the federal government’s choice of classical architectural forms and motifs for its buildings, including colonnaded temple forms with pediments and light-colored limestone wall cladding. These massive and stately structures reflect the early republic’s desire to emulate the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and project an image of strength and stability. Mixed in to these governmental buildings are clusters of smaller commercial and residential buildings typical of pre-civil war and Victorian-era Washington.

Locations for Tour

Although a bill to create the office of the US Archivist was first submitted in 1930, Congress did not establish the National Archives as an independent executive agency until 1934 and Dr. R.D.W. Conner was appointed Archivist by President Roosevelt.…

This distinctive twin-turreted bank, is one of a cluster of financial buildings that distinguish Market Square as a prime 19th century business center. It is among the last 19th-century structures along the Pennsylvania Avenue ceremonial route. …

Headquarters of one of city's longest-lived banks and founded in 1809 as the Bank of Washington, this was the first Washington bank of purely local origin and interest. Built in 1888-1889 by Daniel J. Macarty thanks to the designs of…

This small water fountain was donated to the city by Henry Cogswell, a San Francisco dentist and investor, who gave similar fountains to other cities. The monument is in the form of a granite temple sheltering a drinking fountain in the form of…

Designed by Cluss and Kammerheuber and erected in 1867-1869, this fraternal-commercial building of rare architectural merit is located importantly across 9th St. from the old U.S. Patent Office. In scale and dignity it complements its prestigious…

This beautifully scaled and finely detailed building, with exceptionally fine interiors, is a tour de force of restrained neo-classical design and an outstanding example of American civil architecture. Built in two stages from 1839 to 1866, the…

The headquarters of one of the city's most important banks is an excellent example of Classical Revival bank architecture from the Beaux Arts period. Prominently sited opposite the U.S. Treasury, it influenced the design of other city banks. …

The National Union Building is a narrow, six-story steel frame, brownstone, and brick office building built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1890. Designed by famous architect Glenn Brown (1854-1932), the building remains the most important…

The Harris and Ewing Photographic Studio was built in 1924 by architects Sonnemann and Justement. The studio was home to the nation's largest early‑20th century news photo service, official White House photographer, and Washington's most…

Garfinckel’s Department Store was designed in 1929 by the New York architecture firm of Starrett and Van Vleck, and is an excellent example of a 1920’s department store. The building was built from 1929-30, exemplifying a mastery of the …

The Treasury building is the home of the federal government’s second department, established in 1789. The building was erected between 1836 and 1869, and is the work of five major American architects—Robert Mills, Thomas U. Walter, Ammi B.…

Federal-American National is the elegant headquarters of the bank formed in 1923 through merger of two institutions. It is the work of nationally prominent bank and skyscraper architect, Alfred C. Bossom, in association with Washington's leading…

This ten-story theater and office building, originally known as The Earle and now currently known as the Warner Theatre, was designed in 1924 by noted theater architect C. Howard Crane and his New York partner Kenneth Franzheim. The building is…